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Cloud Computing and Sustainability: The Environmental Benefits of Moving to the Cloud
Executive Summary 2
Introduction: Is the Cloud a Greener Computing Alternative? 3
Research Approach 4
Summary Findings 5
How Does Cloud Computing Reduce Environmental Impacts of IT? 6Dynamic Provisioning 6
Server Utilization 7
Data Center Efficiency 8
Other Important Factors 8
Case Study Global Consumer Goods Company 10
Conclusion & Outlook 11Expanding the Cloud 11
Further Improvements 11
Cloud computinglarge-scale, shared IT infrastructure available over the internetis transforming the way corporate IT services are delivered and managed.
To assess the environmental impact of cloud computing, Microsoft engaged with Accenturea leading technology, consulting and outsourcing companyand WSP Environment & Energya global consultancy dedicated to environmental and sustainability issuesto compare the energy use and carbon footprint of Microsoft cloud offerings for businesses with corresponding Microsoft on-premise deployments.
The analysis focused on three of Microsofts mainstream business applicationsMicrosoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Each application is available both as an on-premise version and as a cloud-based equivalent.2 The team compared the environmental impact of cloud-based vs. on-premise IT delivery on a per-user basis and considered three different deployment sizessmall (100 users), medium (1,000 users) and large (10,000 users).
The study found that, for large deployments, Microsofts cloud solutions can reduce energy use and carbon emissions by more than 30 percent when compared to their corresponding Microsoft business applications installed on-premise. The benefits are even more impressive for small deployments: Energy use and emissions can be reduced by more than 90 percent with a shared cloud service.
Several key factors enable cloud computing to lower energy use and carbon emissions from IT:
Dynamic Provisioning: Reducing wasted computing resources through better matching of server capacity with actual demand.
Multi-Tenancy: Flattening relative peak loads by serving large numbers of organizations and users on shared infrastructure.
Server Utilization: Operating servers at higher utilization rates.
Data Center Efficiency: Utilizing advanced data center infrastructure designs that reduce power loss through improved cooling, power conditioning, etc.
Though large organizations can lower energy use and emissions by addressing some of these factors in their own data centers, providers of public cloud infrastructure are best positioned to reduce the environmental impact of IT because of their scale. By moving applications to cloud services offered by Microsoft or other providers, IT decision- makers can take advantage of highly efficient cloud infrastructure, effectively outsourcing their IT efficiency investments while helping their company achieve its sustainability goals. Beyond the commonly cited benefits of cloud computing such as cost savings and increased agilitycloud computing has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of many business applications.
The clouds unprecedented economies of scale reduce overall cost and increase efficiencies, especially when replacing an organizations locally operated on-premise1 servers. But does this advantage also translate to environmental benefits?
Both cloud computing and sustainability are emerging as transformative trends in business and society. Most consumers (whether they are aware of it or not) are already heavy users of cloud-enabled services, including email, social media, online gaming, and many mobile applications. The business community has begun to embrace cloud computing as a viable option to reduce costs and to improve IT and business agility.
At the same time, sustainability continues to gain importance as a performance indicator for organizations and their IT departments. Corporate sustainability officers, regulators and other stakeholders have become increasingly focused on ITs carbon footprint, and organizations are likewise placing more emphasis on developing long-term strategies to reduce their carbon footprint through more sustainable operations and products.3
Cloud service providers are making significant investments in data center infrastructure to provide not only raw computing power but also Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business applications for their customers. New data centers are being built at ever-larger scales and with increased server density, resulting in greater energy consumption. The Smart 2020 report4 Enabling the Low Carbon
Economy In the Information Age estimates that the environmental footprint from data centers will more than triple between 2002 and 2020, making them the fastest-growing contributor to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors carbon footprint.
It stands to reason that consolidating corporate IT environments into large-scale shared infrastructure operated by specialized cloud providers would reduce the overall environmental impact and unlock new efficiencies. But does this assumption pass the test of a quantitative assessment on a per-user basis?
Considerable research has been dedicated to understanding the environmental impact of data centers and to improving their efficiency.5 However, the aggregate sustainability impact of choosing a cloud-based application over an on-premise deployment for the same application has not been rigorously analyzed. For example, how might a CRM solution for 1,000 sales agents reduce the overall environmental footprint when it is run in the cloud versus on a companys own servers? Is there a net benefit of moving to the cloud, or are we simply outsourcing the environmental impact to a service provider? This Microsoft-sponsored study is targeted at answering these kinds of questions.
Note: While this research focuses on direct carbon reduction benefits of the cloud, it is also important to mention potential indirect benefits of cloud computing beyond the scope of this study. Like broadband and other technologies provided by the ICT sector, cloud computing is emerging as a viable, scalable technology that can help significantly reduce carbon emissions by enabling new solutions for smart grids, smart buildings, optimized logistics and dematerialization. The Smart 2020 report estimates the potential impact of ICT-enabled solutions to be as much as 15 percent of total global carbon emissions (or 7.8 billion tons of CO2 equivalents per year). Broad adoption of cloud computing can stimulate innovation and accelerate the deployment of these enabled solutions. Consequently, cloud computing may have a major impact on global carbon emissions through indirect benefits in addition to the direct savings from replacement of on-premise infrastructure which are analyzed here.
Introduction: Is the Cloud a Greener Computing Alternative?
Building upon previous analysis work with Microsoft,6 Accenture and WSP Environment & Energy developed a quantitative model to calculate the energy use and carbon footprint of an organizations IT applications for both cloud and on-premise deployment. This approach aligns with the assessment methodology developed by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI),7 the industry consortium promoting sustainability on behalf of leading ICT companies.
The model quantifies energy use and carbon emissions on a per-user basis. To account for the fact that on-premise server counts do not follow a linear scale as user counts increase, the research analyzes the impact among three different sizes of user groups: small (100 users), medium (1,000 users) and large (10,000 users).
Specific input data utilized by the research team included the following (also see the Appendix for more detailed information):
User Count: Number of provisioned users for a given application.
Server Count: Number of production servers to operate a given application.
Device Utilization: Computational load that a device (server, network device or storage array) is handling relative to the specified peak load.
Power Consumption per Server: Average power consumed by a server.
Power Consumption for Networking8 and Storage: Average power consumed for networking and storage equipment in addition to server power consumption.
Data Center Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE): Data center efficiency metric which is defined as the ratio of the total data center power consumption divided by the power consumption of the IT equipment. Power usage effectiveness accounts for the power overhead from cooling, power conditioning, lighting and other components of the data center infrastructure.
Data Center Carbon Intensity: Amount of carbon emitted to generate the energy consumed by a data center, depending on the mix of primary energy sources (coal, hydro, nuclear, wind, etc.) and transmission losses. The carbon emission factor is a measurement of the carbon intensity of these energy sources.
To assess the carbon footprint of cloud-based applications, the research team collected data from Microsofts current data center operations. On-premise deployments were modeled based on Microsofts product recommendations and input from subject-matter experts, and were validated with a case study using actual customer data.
The assessment looked at the environmental impact of three different Microsoft applications all of them major products in Microsofts portfolio of (server- based) business applications:9
Microsoft Exchange (email, calendar and contacts)
Microsoft SharePoint (collaboration and web publishing)
Microsoft Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management)
These products are representative of three types of business applications that are used broadly by companies across industries. Assessing multiple applications with different usage characteristics provides a diverse set of data points to validate the hypothesis.
The results of the analysis for Microsoft clearly show significant decreases in CO2 emissions per user across the board for cloud- based versus on-premise delivery of the three applications studied (see Figure 1).
The analysis suggests that, on average across the different applications, typical carbon emission reductions by deployment size are:
More than 90 percent for small deployments of about 100 users
60 to 90 percent for medium-sized deployments of about 1,000 users
30 to 60 percent for large deployments of about 10,000 users
As the data shows, the per-user energy use and carbon footprint is heavily dependent on the size of the deployment. The cloud advantage is particularly compelling for small deployments, because a dedicated infrastructure for small user countsas in a small business running its own serverstypically operates at a very low utilization level and may be idle for a large part of the day. However, even large companies serving thousands of users can derive efficiencies from the cloud beyond those typically found in on-premise IT operations.
Note that, because Microsoft applications and data centers were the basis of the study, the specific carbon reductions from running other applications from other software providers on a cloud model may vary. However, the trends shown here are instructive and may be used as directional indicators for decision makers in corporate IT and sustainability leadership positions when considering a switch to cloud computing with any provider.
Microsoft ExchangeOn-premise vs. Cloud Comparison, CO2e per user
Microsoft SharepointOn-premise vs. Cloud Comparison, CO2e per user
Microsoft Dynamics CRMOn-premise vs. Cloud Comparison, CO2e per user
= estimated decrease with Microsoft Cloud
Figure 1: Comparison of Carbon Emissions of Cloud-Based vs. On-Premise Delivery of Three Microsoft Applications
To understand the potential advantage of cloud computing in more detail, it is important to look at the distinct factors contributing to a lower per-user carbon footprint. These factors apply across cloud providers in general and are even relevant for many on-premise scenarios. This level of understanding can thus help IT executives target additional efficiency gains in an on-premise environment and realize additional performance advantages in the future.
Generally speaking, the comparatively smaller carbon footprint of cloud computing is a consequence of both improved infrastructure efficiency and
a reduced need for IT infrastructure to support a given user base. In turn, these primary levers are heavily influenced by four key factors (see Figure 2):
Data Center Efficiency (expressed by power usage effectiveness)
Dynamic ProvisioningIT managers typically deploy far more server, networking and storage infrastructure than is actually needed to meet application demand. This
kind of over-provisioning typically results from:
The desire to avoid ongoing capacity adjustments as demand fluctuates over time.
Difficulty in understanding and predicting demand growth and peak loads.
Budget policies that encourage using all available funds in a given year to avoid smaller allocations the following fiscal year.
Over-provisioning is certainly understandable. Application availability is a high priority in IT operations, because IT executives want to avoid situations in which
Reduce Carbon Footprint per User
Reduce over-allocatingof infrastructure(Dynamic Provisioning)
Share applicationinstances betweenmultiple organizations(Multi-Tenancy)
Operate server infrastructure at higher utilization
Improve data centerefficiency (PUE)
Forecasting and ongoing adjustment of allocated capacity avoids unnecessary over-allocation of resources and sizing close to actual usage.
Sharing application instances between clientorganizations (tenants) flattens peak loads and reduces overhead for tenant onboarding and management.
Large deployments of virtualized server infrastructure serving multiple tenants can balance compute and storage loads across physical servers and thus be operated at higher utilization rates.
Industrialized data center design at scale and optimized for power efficiency reduces power wasted on cooling, UPS etc. and allows running servers at optimal utilization and temperature.
Figure 2: Key Drivers of Cloud Computings Reduced Environmental Footprint
How Does Cloud Computing Reduce the Environmental Impact of IT?
business demand for services exceeds what IT can provide. Thus infrastructure planning is typically conducted with a conse...